Friday, August 9, 2013

Photo, map album of Carlsbad’s Big Room

A hike through a cave will delight the child in anyone – especially when it’s through one as spectacular as Carlsbad Caverns. Massive stalagmites and stalactites, a bottomless pit, a reflective pool hundreds of feet beneath the surface, and more all await visitors.

A great trail to experience these and many other geological wonders is the park’s Big Room Tour. The relatively level and well-lighted 1.25-mile self-guided trail heads counter-clockwise around the chamber.

To reach Carlsbad Caverns, you’ll have to cross what looks like a scene out of the Old West. Agave and paddle cactus line the desert highway of U.S. Hwys. 62/180 that links El Paso and Carlsbad, N.M. For miles, there’s not much to see but beautiful open desert country, and then the cavern’s visitor center with its expansive parking area suddenly rises out of the emptiness. Elevators in the visitor center take you 754 feet underground, depositing you at a rest area and lunchroom.

From there, a wide passage leads you to the massive Big Room (3D photo), which is 3,800 feet long and 600 feet wide (courtesy USGS):

Carlsbad Caverns locator map (courtesy USGS):

Map of the Big Room Tour (courtesy NPS):

Carlsbad Caverns (photo in 3D) are in the remnants of what once was a 400-mile long reef on an inland sea that covered North American 250 million years ago. As the sea evaporated, salts and gypsum buried the reef. Uplift and erosion exposed the buried rock a few million years ago. Slightly acidic groundwater and rain seeped through the rocks, carving out the fantastic caverns and its incredible formations (courtesy USGS):

Among the first of those features on the Big Room Tour is the Hall of Giants. The limestone Giant Dome soars 62 feet high and at 16 feet in diameter is wider than most trees. Many visitors say it resembles a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa:

Next to Giant Dome sit a pair of limestone structures aptly named Twin Dome. White lighting allows you to see their natural colors:

Further up the trail is the Temple of the Sun, an elegant limestone formation that almost appears to be handcrafted, surrounded by stalactites above and stalagmites below:

Next is Caveman Junction, featuring a rock formation that vaguely looks like a Neanderthal:

Next is the Totem Pole, a long skinny rock formation stretching above your heads:

Crystal Spring Dome is a wet cone-shaped stalagmite that is still growing:

Closing on the trail’s end is the Rock of Ages, an impressive formation that looks like the hand of God had placed it there:

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.